A truly literate person gains pleasure, understanding and a view into other worlds from interaction with text.

Matilda was a book child.

From the time Matilda was just a few months old she sat in rapt attention, under the crook of a loved one’s arm in comfort listening to words that flowed like a river, words that told of hungry caterpillars, patchwork elephants and wild things in faraway places never before imagined.

A 2 year old turning the pages of a book she likes and telling herself the story, or even a different story, is nearer the actual business of reading than a child who reads small units of text without ever making a mistake and without understanding a word. … Literature makes readers in a way that reading schemes never can. (Adams 1990).

While being bathed in rich language, Matilda gradually accrued information about literary style, sophisticated syntactic forms, longer phrases and relative clauses, metaphor and simile. By the summer before she went to school her vocabulary, analogical skills and comprehension were immensely well developed. She was well on the way to becoming literate.

Crucially, Matilda loved to communicate. Her first recognisable words were written on a postcard to her grandma; who correctly decoded the message, love from Matilda. Her reading skills developed in harmony with her desire to make connection through the written as well as the spoken word.

Children are wired for sound, but print is an optional accessory that must be painstakingly bolted on (Pinker 1997).

At school, teachers tapped into Matilda’s innate love of language. They played games with sounds, to her delight, and gave her permission to play with language too. She not only recognised rhyme and alliteration, but also was able easily to generate them – as silly as could be. She could break words up and create new ones. She made puns and jokes and was confident that her word games would be appreciated. It was a smooth transition to grasping phonology and phonics. She knew that if aspects of a story – or any other new experience in school – puzzled her, her voice would be heard. She learnt to question, interrogate and discuss narrative texts.

Matilda was active as she learned with her teachers systematically developing her phonological and phonemic awareness. They ensured that she rapidly gained enough phonic knowledge to help her ascribe meaning to what she was reading.

Very soon she had become a fluent, enthusiastic reader and writer, synthesising the skills of decoding with more advanced strategies for effective reading: using analogy, predicting new words and new scenarios, drawing inferences and noticing relationships between one text and another, re-reading to check for understanding, recognising a variety of genre, interpreting character and plot and finding information in a text. A child can be said to be a reader if she automatically combines any or all of these when faced with a difficult text. All of this, of course, she had been practising since she sat on her favourite peoples’ laps at bedtime (and many other moments in the day). It was the emotional engagement that more than anything else made a reader of Matilda, enabling her to know what to do when she didn’t know what to do.

Despite the fact that it took our ancestors about 2000 years to develop an alphabetic code, children are regularly expected to crack this code in about 2000 days, or they will run afoul of the whole educational structure ….How a child first learns to read is a tale of either magic and fairies or missed chances and unnecessary loss. (Wolf 2008).

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